Ko Ko Wangi has been sold.

Sungai Endap, The River Crossing the Property

Sungai Endap, The River Crossing the Property

I am leaving today for KL (Kuala Lumpur) and I probably will not be back to our home of 12 years. This is goodbye to a cherished place and goodbye, too, to my amazing wonderland garden. While I am still sitting in my favorite room, the living room, consciously delaying my ultimate departure, my thoughts linger on pleasant memories: our two sons building bamboo rafts with the help of their friends. They have planned to navigate Sungai Endap as far as their embarkation will carry them upstream. It’s them, again, jumping from a rope into the river like young Tarzans. It can still here them laughing while chasing Megan the whole length of the house, armed with pillows. My thoughts move on to the guest room that my friend Jacqueline occupied for so long. Before Jacqueline, my brother and his wife stayed there and loved it so much that they took the attached bathroom design back to their Sausset les Pins home. And what about Elsa and Jackie who probably never needed a room, since there was the river! Hubby and I, the boys, our family and friends, we all shared great love for our Sungai, the river. And I especially treasure the memories of our picnics, with tables planted in the middle of the running stream, while being spied upon by a family of otters, a Chinese aigrette named Big Bird and the regular blue heron. Leaving home also means remembering the canine companions who shared it with us over the years and contributed to the digging of many holes underneath one particular corner of the fence. There were the Cocker Spaniels, Sunset, Midnight and their daughter Pepsy. Big Carmen who was a good old girl and new it well. Cassius Bonus du Baba au Rhum, my unconditional body guard. There too was Malibu and Athos Brutus; Aramis who was a very sick puppy and left too soon. And what about the Maltese, Kenzo, Ines and Lola? Last but not least there was Black Sherlock whose name still brings fear to our neighbors’ dogs. caramel and Mister K are still with us and will follow us to our new home in the city where they will learn to wait for the postman. ” I’m leaving home, Bye bye” And I am leaving Ko Ko Wangi in the hands of it’s new owners whom I know have already developed a great love for the Sungai and all the trees on the property. The automatic gate is finally closing behind me; my eyes are dry. It is time to go.

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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in C'est la Vie


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In Malaysia, there are two kinds of mermaids. The first kind is called dugong. They are very gentle and very rare. They belong to the order of the sirenia, which, translated into French is sirène, which is….. mermaid!

A Dugong  by  dive

A Dugong by dive

the second kind of mermaids are in fact sirènes-dugongs , just because I  design, make them, and dress  them with beautiful batik.

My sirenes-dugongs have been adopted to different parts of the world: France, Australia, NZ, Hong-Kong…. And more recently one to Norway. Ruth, her new owner has sent me a picture taken in her seaside holiday cabin. Thankfully, doll mermaid cannot feel the Baltic cold. I do hope though that this one can enjoy the beautiful view.

One of my sirènes-mermaids at home in a Norwegian cabin

One of my sirènes-mermaids at home in a Norwegian cabin



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Heidi Munan

Heidi Munan

BEADS of BORNEO, written by Heidi Munan (Editions Didier Millet) is by far my favourite coffee table book. It is also the most beautiful and informative gift I feel I can give visitors and friends from afar who ask nothing more than to go back to their home country with a small treasure from this amazing island.

For those yet unfamiliar with Heidi Munan’s work as Honorary Curator of Beads at the Sarawak Museum, she has impressive news as she is, right now, in the midst of organising the 3rd Borneo International Beads Conference (BIBCo). The event will last three days from 11-13 October 2013 at Four Points Hotel by Sheraton in Kuching, Sarawak with the theme: “Beads and Heritage”

While Heidi had a little time off, she kindly agreed to let me ask her a few questions for this blog.

ART: Heidi, how did you become interested in beads?

HM: When I came to live in Sarawak, I noticed how people, especially the Orang Ulu people from the Highlands, liked to dress and wear, and use beads to ornate useful objects such as baby carriers. I also noticed that they seem to attach great value to their beads, and so I wanted to know more.

Orang Ulu baby carrier - 20th century

Orang Ulu baby carrier – 20th century

ART: You mention the Orang Ulu people. Do all native people in Sarawak who are called Dayak, and perhaps other ethnic groups, races share this bead culture?

HM: Collecting and trading beads is mostly a non Muslim and Dayak tradition and, amongst them the Orang Ulu people are the ones who wear and use them the most and very artistically too. For the Bidayuhs, beads are used, mostly, to make necklaces worn during ritualistic ceremonies. The Ibans create elaborate collars for ladies to wear on top of their blouse. As for the Chinese people, they have their own traditional gems, crystal beads and jade jewellery.

ART: Beads were, and still are, worn as necklaces, how else are they being used?

HM: Beads in Borneo, are symbols of status and wealth. They are also worn with a sense of fashion. A wealthy Iban bride can wear a beaded overdress, which is no small feat as it can weigh as much as 16 kilos. Beads are also used on hats, for ladies head-caps and belts. Men are very fond of beads too; on their headdress, ceremonial vests, seat-mats and, of course their precious parang. Let’s not forget the baby carrier with intricate symbolic designs.

ART: How far into history does the bead tradition go back to?

HM: Archaeological finds in the caves of Niah revealed that ornaments were made out of bones and organic materials as long ago as 40.000 years! Glass beads were found there that date back 1200 years; they were small, of a single colour.

ART: You are saying “made out of bones”; can these be considered as beads?

HM: Indeed, the definition of a bead is really something that has been perforated to be worn as an ornament. Nowadays, you can still find glass beads are mixed with organic ones such as leopard fangs, bear claws … There are even skull caps ornate with a rhinoceros hornbill skull and bill embellished with glass beads!


A rhinoceros hornbill head decorates a Kenyah chieftain’s skullcap which is embellished with cowrie shell beads.

ART: For a long time, beads were traded; can you tell me more about that in the history of Borneo?

HM: Beads were exchanged and traded; let’s say… for ever and all over the world. They were small change and did change hands, a lot, and so much in fact, that a bead made, let’s say in Bohemia could, one day end as the heirloom of an Orang Ulu family in the highlands of Borneo. And this could have happened 300 hundred years ago! A ship would carry bigger cargo, of course, and jars and cloth. The trade world route would often call at Melaka and from there goods could be shipped to various ports on the South China Sea and, of course, on the coast of Sarawak. A jar filled with blue beads was found in a shipwreck; a case of two in one trading.

ART: How do you explain that beads became so important to the native people of Borneo, that they actually became heirloom?

HM: Beads can last forever. Few things in the jungle do. Wood won’t last, fabrics will disintegrate sooner or later, and even jars and porcelain break while ceramic and glass beads can still be found in very ancient graves, still intact and very colourful.  Because of this, people have come to revere beads and believe in their occult power. They are also considered as some sort of identification and proof of the pedigree line of a family kept through an amazing oral history. Women in Orang Ulu longhouses can un-wrap one single bead preciously kept inside a cloth and tell many stories related to it; their history and that of their people, really.

ART: How is bead craft fearing in Borneo 2013?

HM: Beads are very sellable to tourists and young people are now more interested in beading art and craft. There is more variety of materials too. Although there are ceramic beads fabricated in Lawas under a government project, I would say that 95% these materials are imported. The internet too, has become important in exchanging ideas and techniques. There is a beads network!

ART: There is a beads network and the Borneo International Beads Conference! 20130618_124833

HM: Yes, and it is the 3rd such conference we organise, here in Sarawak. It is a marvellous platform for exchanges of knowledge and ideas and for discovery too. The theme, this year, is “Beads and Heritage”. Invited speakers will be coming from different regions of the world and we will have local ones too, like Dr.Poline Bala, a Kelabit anthropologist, Su Chin Sidhi from the Sabah Museum,  Bidayuh Patricia Nayoi and myself.

ART: I have to confess that as far as beads as concerned, I am a complete ignorant. What can someone like me expect from the 3rd Borneo International Beads Conference?

HM: The talks that we have planned will not be too academic, as we want everyone to enjoy and bring something back from those expert speakers. Artists will be there too, showing their creations and demonstrating their own techniques.  Around the beads, there will be fashion and even fashion shows with, of course, the emphasis kept on how to wear beads. And let’s not forget the beads bazaar that will be open to the public for the whole duration of the conference.

ART: Heidi, do you wear beads?

HM: Not often and when I do, I like to wear them for my own pleasure (not solely for special events) and with plain clothes so that their beauty stands out even more.

ART: Do you collect Borneo beads?

HM: I do not collect expensive or ancient beads. I love looking at beautiful beads, but I have an embarrassingly small collection. I must stress here, that there will be no antique beads sold at the 3rd Borneo International Beads Conference. By law, antique beads are not allowed to be taken out of Sarawak.

ART: For those who will not be able to make it to the 3rd Borneo International Beads Conference, but will be visiting Sarawak in the future, is there a repository where they can see traditional and ancient Borneo beads?

HM: There is a nice quality (although small) display at the Textile Museum, opposite the Kuching post office. There is also the Tun Jugah Foundation private gallery., 18, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia  Tel: 082-239 672  Visits are organised by appointment with Janet,

As we are about to part, I ask Heidi if she believes in the occult powers of magic beads. Her answer is “nope”. I can’t help thinking that she is wrong; after all, the beads of Borneo have crossed time and kept the history of the native people alive through mere oral tradition and that is fantastically magical isn’t it?

Late Note: Heidi Munan is also the organiser of the World Craft Bazaar which will take place at the Sarawak Cultural Village during the World Rainforest Music Festival, 28 – 30 June; you will find the craft bazaar to your left from the main gate, between the Malay house and the tall Melanau house.


3rd Borneo International Beads Conference


Valerie Hector is an anthropologist, and a professional jewellery designer whose primary materials are beads and precious metals. “Modern Mainland Chinese Beadwork”

Akwele Suma Glory is a creative artist, based in Ghana, who uses and promotes beads in her works. “African Powder Glass Beads”

Dr.Elaine Kim, Director of the World Jewellry Museum in Korea, completed her academic education in the Netherlands. “Ancient and modern beads in Korea”

Martina Dempf, bijouterie designer and anthropologist, has created some stunning “fusion” jewellery combining organic materials and precious metals. “Jewellry in Action – Examples from East Africa”

Stephany Tomalin, designer, collector of antique and unusual beads and bead jewellery, is a founder member of the Bead Society of Great Britain. “Opulent Organic Beads”

Dr.Zuliskandar Ramli, Malaysian archaeologist of note, will speak on ‘The beads of Bujang Valley  Complex in north-eastern Malaya’

Kathy Chen Huei Yun,  Australian National University, has just completed a research project on the beads of the native inhabitants of Taiwan. “Beads of the Paiwan People of Taiwan”

Dr.Poline Bala, head of Anthropology at UNIMAS (Sarawak University) will talk about the bead culture of her own people, ‘Kelabit Beads’

Su Chin Sidih of Sabah Museum is a long-term student of traditions of her home State, specialising in sartorial culture and personal adornment. “Beads of Sabah”

Patricia Nayoi, research assistant with the Sarawak Development Institute and student of her indigenous culture. “Berawan – the Healing Beads of the Bidayuh people”

Heidi Munan, Hon. Curator of Beads, Sarawak Museum. “Beads in the Literature”

For more information, email at                                      Website

Booking Information: Alexis at


 All pictures on this post are curtesy of Heidi Munan’s BEAD of BORNEO



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In coastal and swampy areas of Sarawak grows the very versatile Nypa fruticans Wurmb or Aracacea. In Malay and in Iban language, it is called Apong. Its leaves are used for roofing and fencing; its flowers produce sweet juice for making nipah sugar. Its fruit is edible (eaten like sea-coconut) and the heart of the trunk is cooked “lemak”with coconut milk.

Le Aracacea ou Nypa fruticans Wurmb (Apong en langues malaise et iban) est un palmier très  versatile à troncs multiples qui pousse dans les régions côtières et marécageuses du Sarawak. Les feuilles servent de toitures et de clôtures ; les fleurs produisent du sirop. Les fruits, dont l’intérieur rappelle la noix de coco sont délicieux une fois bouillis et sucrés et le cœur du palmier se cuisine « lemak », avec du lait de coco.

Aracacea ou Nypa fruticans Wurmb

Aracacea ou Nypa fruticans Wurmb

Composition per 100g fresh edible portion*

Apong heart

Energy (kcal)                                          14

Moisture (g)                                           94.1

Protein (g)                                                0.7

Fat (g)                                                        0.1

Carbohydrate (g)                                     2.5

Crude fibre (g)                                          0.7

Ash (g)                                                       1.9

Vitamin C (mg)                                         0

Phosphorus (mg)                                     0

Calcium (mg)                                            50

Magnesium (mg)                                     97

Iron (mg)                                                     0.6

Manganese (mg)                                        8.2

Copper (mg)                                                0.02

Zinc (mg)                                                      0.45

* Collected from Wild Fruits & Vegetable in Sarawak – Research Division Department of Agriculture Sarawak


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Peranakan painting


From The Great China they came to trade on the coasts of Malaya and Singapore. Some two hundred years ago, many of them settled to stay and married local Malay women. These families who became known as the Peranakans, developed a new “baba” language, a marriage of Malay and Chinese Hokkien.
The Peranakans also created a new art culture by creating intricate motives of flowers, butterflies and phoenixes in bright yellow, rose pink, jade green and serene blue. These exquisite tableaux were embroidered on the women’s traditional wear, the kebaya, and painted on porcelains pieces which have since become collector’s items.
While on a trip to Singapore, I found a set of cards celebrating the Art of the Peraniakan. These cards were painted by Maureen Foo Bong Soon, who is a self taught artist !!!!
On the packaging for the cards, it was written that Maureen “hopes that her bold, bright colors, and detailed work will evoke in you a sense of exquisiteness, beauty, brightness and joy.” She has definitely succeeded in doing that with me!

Peranakan art


Ils étaient venus de la Grande Chine pour établir leurs ports de commerce sur la péninsule malaise et à Singapour. Cela se passait il y a plus de deux siècles, lorsque ces marchants chinois choisirent de rester et de fonder des familles en épousant des femmes malaises. Ainsi naquit la civilisation perenakan et, avec elle, un nouveau dialecte, mélange de chinois hokkien et de malais: le baba.

On doit aux peranakans une toute nouvelle culture artistique du même nom qui dépeint des motifs floraux, des papillons et des phénix qui naissent dans le vif des jaunes, des roses, vert de jade et bleus. Ces tableaux raffinés étaient aussi bien brodés sur les kebaya, les tenues traditionnelles des femmes, que peints sur des objets en porcelaine, désormais des pièces de collections.

Lors d’un voyage à Singapour, j’ai trouvé un set de cartes représentant l’art des peranakans. Ces cartes ont été peintes par Maureen Foo Bong Soon.

Sur l’enveloppe, un commentaire de Maureen qui “espère que ses motifs très détaillés aux couleurs vives et audacieuses réussiront à évoquer tout à la fois la délicatesse, la beauté, la clarté et  la joie » En ce qui me concerne, elle a certainement réussi !



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Strange things can happen when you read a book, such as a phrase, a few sentences, sometimes, even, a full paragraph shooting out of it’s page to strike you like an arrow through the heart with the revelation that the author is a brother/sister soul.
“Yeah!” I’ll say to myself, “That’s exactly how I feel!”; and I am not alone anymore.
This time, the arrow has been shot by author Will Schwalbe in

” A true meditator on what books can do”

Will writes:

“One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. Sure, sometimes they’ll elude you by hiding in improbable places: in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt. But at other times they’ll confront you, and you’ll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn’t thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can’t whack you upside it.”

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Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Books I've Read


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Tambang Crossing Back to the Square Tower and the Court House on the Waterfront

Tambang Crossing Back to the Square Tower and the Court House on the Waterfront

I love crossing the Sarawak River on tambangs from south to north and back. After all, it only costs 40 cents one way!
The old downtown Kuching is on the south side, the Main Bazaar, the Old Court House (1874), Brooke Dockyard (1912) and the Old State Mosque…

The Old State Mosque

The Old State Mosque

The first White Rajah, James Brooke, built his bungalow (1870) on the north bank . It’s still there and is now referred to as the Astana (the palace) and serves as the Governor’s official residence. While in Kuching, the Rajah was accessible in his house to anyone who wished to see him. It contained one large room, which was his audience-chamber and his dining hall, several small rooms for staff and guests, his own suite of rooms at the side, a bedroom, sitting-room and library, with bathroom underneath.
On the north bank too, there’s Fort Margharita, built in 1879 and named after Ranee Margaret, wife of Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak. A definitely more modern addition on that side of the river is the State Assembly Complex which opened in July 2009.

The State Assembly Complex

The State Assembly Complex

These are but only few of the quaint and charming reminders of Kuching’s past. I reckon the tambangs have been crossing the Sarawak river since the early days of James Brooke, or earlier? They may be now equipped with engines, their roof tops may be bill-board for hire, but their charm remains untouched. Board a tambang from the beautiful Kuching Waterfront; not only will you meet friendly commuters, the old folks in baju-Kurong* or Baju Malayu*, the young and trendy in jeans or the office clerck wearing white shirt and tie. Most importantly, you’ll meet the boatman on his vessel; and if you care to be a little observant, you’ll be amazed to find out that his tambang is really his second home.


The Tambang as Second Home

The Tambang as Second Home


THE WHITE RAJAHS – A HISTORY OF SARAWAK FROM 1841 TO 1946 by Steven Runciman. Cambridge at the University Press 1960

Baju Kurong: Malay women’s dress consisting of a long tunic over a long straight skirt.

Baju Melayu ; Worn by Malay men, consisting of a tunic worn over starigh long pants. The hat is called songkok.

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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Discover Borneo


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